COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
HEAD COACH: Ken Niumatalolo, 40-26 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ivin Jasper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Buddy Green
Keenan Reynolds displayed tremendous poise, presence and instincts along with a strong, accurate throwing arm while starting eight games as a freshman. Navy, while still a triple-option team at heart, will work out of the shotgun formation more in 2013 to take advantage of Reynolds’ abilities.
“I feel like we have a special player at the quarterback position,” says coach Ken Niumatalolo, who wants to incorporate some spread principles in Navy’s attack. “Keenan allows us to do some different things. I just think he has some skills we need to take advantage of. Keenan has the ability to throw on the run, throw under duress. I think adding more of a passing element will make us harder to defend.”
Noah Copeland returns at fullback after rushing for 738 yards in his first season as a starter. He should team with bruising sophomore Chris Swain to form a solid one-two combination. Geoffrey Whiteside showed last season he has the speed and explosiveness to succeed Gee Gee Greene as the top slotback. Shawn Lynch should replace Brandon Turner as the go-to receiver.
Center Tanner Fleming, right guard Jake Zuzek and right tackle Graham Vickers are returning starters along the offensive line.
Navy played the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy espoused by defensive coordinator Buddy Green, ranking 19th nationally in red zone defense, allowing 37 scores (24 touchdowns, 13 field goals) on 50 opportunities (.740).
The Mids rotated nine players along the defensive line in 2012, and seven of them are back, led by aggressive end Evan Palelei.
Inside linebacker Cody Peterson took over as a starter six games into the season and became a big-time tackler, recording 10 stops versus Air Force and 14 against archrival Army. James Britton, a converted safety who played in nickel situations a year ago, had a strong spring and will likely start at the other inside spot for the Mids, whose 3-4 scheme usually makes the inside backers the leading tacklers. Jordan Drake started every game at one outside linebacker spot, while Obi Uzoma and A.K. Akpunku have the potential to form a strong pass-rushing tandem at the other.
There is a ton of talent in the secondary as seven different returning players have seen action. Free safety Chris Ferguson and right cornerback Parrish Gaines, both juniors, spearhead the unit.
Nick Sloan was one of the most pleasant surprises of last season, winning the placekicking job as a plebe and going 10-of-15 on field goals. He opened the season by converting 32 consecutive kicks (25 PATs, seven field goals). Pablo Beltran enjoyed one of the best seasons by a Navy punter in his second year as a starter, averaging 43.6 yards per attempt (third-best average in program history).
Navy has displayed remarkable consistency over the last decade, posting winning records in nine of 10 seasons and capturing the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy eight times during that span. However, such sustained success has not come easy — the Midshipmen played in 56 games that were decided by eight points or less from 2002-12.
Navy owns a 32–24 record in such games during that span, which is a major reason why it played in nine bowl games during the most successful period in program history. That ability to win the close ones will be key again this season against a rigorous schedule that features seven schools that went to bowl games in 2012.
Navy has an agreement to appear in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas if it posts a winning record.